Thursday, February 17, 2011

U.S. Embassy Celebrates Black History Month with Discover Paris!™

For anyone looking for a tour with a warm and knowledgeable guide that goes beyond the usual monuments and landmarks, I highly recommend taking a Discover Paris! tour.

Arcadia Letkemann, TMM Public Outreach Coordinator/Special Projects
American Embassy Paris

On Saturday, February 12th, fifteen staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Paris celebrated Black History Month by taking a Discover Paris! Entrée to Black Paris™ (ETBP) walk that I created especially for them. It incorporated elements of ETBP’s “Black Pearl Walk” and “Black History in and around the Luxembourg Garden” walk. I was pleased to be able to include several new tidbits of information that I recently uncovered through interviews and research!

The first part of Saturday’s walk focused on the personas of Josephine Baker and Beauford Delaney. We began at Place Josephine Baker in the 14th arrondissement, where I briefly presented Josephine’s legacy of performing, military service and French Resistance activities during WWII, and philanthropy.

At Place Josephine Baker
© Discover Paris

We then visited the Bobino Theater – site of her last performance run in 1975 – and talked of the last days of her life and her funeral. We stopped near the wall of the Montparnasse cemetery, where I spoke of artist Beauford Delaney and his long-lasting friendship with James Baldwin. We then saw two hotels where Beauford lived during his first years in Paris, and got an unexpected glimpse of a courtyard that preserves the essence of “old Montparnasse.” The city of Paris razed the neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s, implementing an urban renewal project that favored profits over architectural aesthetics and the preservation of the area’s village atmosphere.

We went on to the Carrefour Vavin, where we continued to discuss Beauford and Josephine; for good measure I also offered an anecdote about African-American fighter pilot Eugene Bullard. All of the “Carrefour cafés”– Le Dôme, La Rotonde, Le Select, and La Coupole – have African-American history associated with them.

In front of Le Select
© Discover Paris!

Making our way to the Luxembourg Garden, we stopped briefly while I pointed out the former location of La Boule Blanche – one of the two most famous post-WWI Antillean clubs in Paris. People came here to dance the beguine, which was widely popularized when Josephine Baker included it in one of her dance performances in 1931.

We entered the garden at the southeast corner, where I talked briefly about the working apiary and the espaliered trees that exist there. We then wended our way along the gently curving paths to reach the Statue of Liberty. At the foot of the statue, I discussed the urban legend that claims that the sculptor used a black woman as the model and that the statue was conceived to honor the black soldiers who served during the Civil War.

Statue of Liberty
© Discover Paris!

During the remainder of our time in the garden, I talked about the “mutual admiration society” of Richard Wright and Gertrude Stein, the landscape paintings of Loïs Mailou Jones, and the Loi Taubira – the French law that declares slavery a crime against humanity. We ended our leisurely but eventful stroll at the Fabrice Hyber sculpture that commemorates the abolition of slavery in France.

Le Cri, L'Ecrit
Fabrice Hyber
© Discover Paris!

Arcadia Letkemann, Coordinator of TMM Public Outreach/Special Projects at the Embassy, had the following to say about the tour:

The Discover Paris! Black History Month walking tour, especially prepared for the American Embassy Paris, was a relaxing and informative experience. Don’t be daunted by the length of this tour; two hours went by quickly – especially because the tour was not strenuous and the pace was leisurely.

Monique Wells is a very personable and knowledgeable guide who was both well prepared and flexible; she even threw in information about landmarks, history and traditions that were not specifically geared to African-American history per se, but which enriched our understanding of the larger context that attracted black writers and artists to Paris during the 20th century.

For anyone looking for a tour with a warm and knowledgeable guide that goes beyond the usual monuments and landmarks, I highly recommend taking a Discover Paris! tour.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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